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AL Championship Series

Blazing Cain: Dash from first sends KC to WS

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- Just as the Royals have been saying all season, last year was no fluke.

While few prognosticators even picked them to win the American League Central, the Royals advanced to their second straight World Series for the first time in franchise history with a pulsating 4-3 win over the Blue Jays in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

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KANSAS CITY -- Just as the Royals have been saying all season, last year was no fluke.

While few prognosticators even picked them to win the American League Central, the Royals advanced to their second straight World Series for the first time in franchise history with a pulsating 4-3 win over the Blue Jays in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Royals -- Results ::

Lorenzo Cain scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, scoring all the way from first on Eric Hosmer's single down the right-field line. When right fielder Jose Bautista's throw went to second base, Cain, who was tracked by Statcast™ at 20.694 mph, was sent home by third-base coach Mike Jirschele, and Cain easily beat shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's relay throw home. Cain went from first to home in 10.469 seconds.

The Royals move on to face the Mets in Game 1 of the World Series, set for Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET airtime on FOX, with game time slated for 8 p.m.).

Shop for Royals AL champs gear

"This year, from the first day at Spring Training, we expected to be here," Royals manager Ned Yost said on the podium on the field during the postgame presentation of the William Harridge Trophy, for winning the AL.

"Our players, they had such a great season, they would never quit, they continued to battle, even when the chips were down a little bit. And it enabled me to put on this new hat here today that has World Series on it, and I'll see you guys on Tuesday."

Statcast™: Cain's sprint the difference for KC

Video: ALCS Gm 6: Cain sprints at 21 mph to score from first

Kansas City struck early on solo homers from Ben Zobrist (first inning) and Mike Moustakas (second), and after Yordano Ventura turned a 2-1 lead over to the bullpen after a solid 5 1/3 innings, Alex Rios made it 3-1 with an RBI single in the seventh.

Ventura holds potent Jays bats in check

Kelvin Herrera followed Ventura and retired all five batters he faced. But then Ryan Madson gave up a one-out, two-run bomb to Bautista that made it 3-3 in the eighth before Wade Davis came on to get the final two outs of the frame.

Video: Momentum shifts back and forth in 8th frame of Game 6

At that point, rain had begun falling heavily and the game was delayed for 45 minutes. The Royals wasted no time once play resumed, with Cain giving them a lead before an out was recorded. A Blue Jays double play kept it a 4-3 game heading to the ninth, and Davis returned to the mound despite sitting for over an hour. He allowed a leadoff single and a walk, but struck out Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere before Josh Donaldson's groundout with runners on second and third gave Kansas City the AL pennant.

Wade in! Rain doesn't stop Davis

"I knew we would, as far as fighting to the end, because that's what we do. That's who these guys are," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We were sitting in that position, we just couldn't get it done. Wade Davis stepped up, like he's done the last few years."

Video: ALCS Gm6: Davis' performance sends Royals to WS

David Price started for Toronto and was solid, throwing 6 2/3 innings and giving up just three runs.

Video: ALCS Gm6: Price discusses his start after Game 6 loss

"He stepped up tonight, he really did," Gibbons said of Price. "A couple solo home runs early, and he's really as good as we've seen him. He kept us right there, gave us a shot. Jose had a huge night, too."

Strong outing 'not good enough' for Price

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Delay doesn't stop Royals: Following a 45-minute rain delay, the Royals wasted no time getting to Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. Cain led off with a walk and then scored all the way from first on what turned out to be a long single by Hosmer. The single went to the corner in right and Bautista came up throwing to second, which allowed Cain to keep running. Hosmer stopped between first and second, but Cain easily scored on the delayed relay throw home. It was a disappointing end to the postseason for Osuna, who had allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings prior to Game 6.

Video: Cain scores from first on a pair of Hosmer singles

"It worked because Hoz made a big turn coming around first base. It worked because Lorenzo Cain never slowed down," Yost said. "He didn't just take for granted that he was going to third base. And Jirschele knew that in those situations Bautista comes up and fires to second base, and he was waving him all along. It was a huge send by Jirsch."

BAKC TO BAKC: Royals win AL again, eye WS win

Video: ALCS Gm6: Cain discusses scoring the go-ahead run

Bautista bombs: Bautista rose to the occasion during the AL Division Series against the Rangers, and he did it again in the ALCS. Toronto was trailing, 3-1, in the eighth inning and down to its final five outs when Bautista unloaded on an 0-1 fastball from Madson. The two-run shot to left tied the game and gave the Blue Jays new life. It was Bautista's second home run of the game, as he also homered off Ventura in the fourth inning.

"I was just trying to make something positive happen when I came up to the plate," Bautista said. "I was able to come through twice. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Sour loss, but we had enough opportunities to do more, and we didn't. They deserved the win."

Bautista's two homers nearly enough in Gm 6

Video: ALCS Gm6: Statcast™ breaks down Bautista's homers

Zobrist, Moose get it started: Zobrist smacked his second homer of this postseason in the bottom of the first off Price. With one out, Zobrist jumped on a fastball up in the zone and yanked it into the left-field corner, just over the fence. That got the crowd jump-started and put Kansas City up, 1-0.

Video: TOR@KC: Zobrist belts a 367-foot homer to left field

Moustakas had five postseason homers a season ago, setting a franchise record. He finally got No. 1 of the 2015 postseason in the second inning, a rocket over the right-field fence that had an exit velocity of 109.2 mph, according to Statcast™, his hardest-hit homer of the season. The ball was caught by a fan near the guard rail in the right-field bleachers, leading to a crew-chief review to determine whether fan interference applied. But the call was allowed to stand and the Royals had an early 2-0 lead.

"Every hit that he's gotten in these playoffs has been a huge hit," Yost said of Moustakas. "He hasn't got a lot of them, but every hit that he's gotten has been a huge hit. And tonight I expected him to kind of do something special tonight, and he did."

Blue Jays, Royals see Moose's HR differently

Video: Must C Crucial: Moustakas homers, fan snares on fly

Big insurance run: Moustakas led off the seventh with a broken-bat single to center. After Salvador Perez was robbed of extra bases by a terrific catch from left fielder Revere, Alex Gordon had a hit taken away from him by second baseman Ryan Goins. Moustakas took second on the play and then scored when Rios ripped a single to left.

Video: ALCS Gm6: Rios hits an RBI single into left field

Troubles with the RISP: The Blue Jays struggled early with the bats, but they had a perfect opportunity for a big inning in the fifth, when Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar led off with a pair of walks. Goins then took a called strike on the first pitch of his at-bat, bunted foul on the second and eventually flied out to center. Revere followed with a flyout of his own and then Donaldson smacked a line drive to the left side of the infield that was snared by diving third baseman Moustakas. The ball left Donaldson's bat at 114 mph, according to Statcast™, but it was all for naught, as Toronto stranded both runners. It was a trend that continued all night for the Blue Jays, as they finished 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base.

"You know what, every once in a while you've got to give credit to the other side," Gibbons said. "They got to this round like us because they have great pitching. When they turn over the bullpen, you saw what you saw tonight."

Ventura escapes fifth with help from Moose

Video: ALCS Gm6: Moustakas makes first step in .36 seconds

M-V-P
Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar was named ALCS MVP after finishing the series with a .478 average (11-for-23) to go along with three extra-base hits, five RBIs and six runs scored.

"Just a dream come true," Escobar said in Spanish, smiling wide. "It never crossed my mind to win the MVP in the postseason. Thankfully things went well for me. I'm thankful they gave me the MVP."

Escobar takes home ALCS MVP honors

Video: ALCS Gm6: Escobar talks earning ALCS MVP honors

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Bautista became the sixth player in Major League history to hit multiple homers in a potential ALCS elimination game. He also became the first player in Blue Jays history to hit multiple home runs in a postseason game.

"Unreal performance by Jose," Martin said. "He's definitely that type of player who loves being in that moment. He loves the big situations, and we've seen him do it before, and again today. He did everything he could in his power to try to win. Unfortunately, we just fell short."

Video: ALCS Gm6: Yost discusses facing Bautista, Encarnacion

WHAT'S NEXT
Royals: Kansas City will likely to go with Edinson Volquez for Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, with New York turning to either Jacob deGrom or Matt Harvey. The Royals have the home-field advantage by virtue of the AL's 6-3 win in the All-Star Game, meaning Kansas City will host Games 1 and 2 and a potential 6 and 7.

Gregor Chisholm and Jeffrey Flanagan are reporters for MLB.com.

Jose Bautista, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, David Price, Yordano Ventura, Ben Zobrist

Escobar takes home ALCS MVP honors

Shortstop racks up 11 hits, sets table as Royals return to World Series
MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- With his 2-year-old son in his arms and his wife by his side, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar approached Kauffman Stadium's home dugout late Friday night, looked up and saw a sold-out crowd serenade him with the "MVP" chants he never could've imagined.

Escobar -- the atypical leadoff hitter with the unconventional approach -- shined throughout this American League Championship Series, capturing Most Valuable Player honors with 11 hits in 23 at-bats. And in the moments following Friday's 4-3 win over the Blue Jays, he still couldn't believe it.

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KANSAS CITY -- With his 2-year-old son in his arms and his wife by his side, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar approached Kauffman Stadium's home dugout late Friday night, looked up and saw a sold-out crowd serenade him with the "MVP" chants he never could've imagined.

Escobar -- the atypical leadoff hitter with the unconventional approach -- shined throughout this American League Championship Series, capturing Most Valuable Player honors with 11 hits in 23 at-bats. And in the moments following Friday's 4-3 win over the Blue Jays, he still couldn't believe it.

View Full Game Coverage

Buy Royals AL champions gear

"Just a dream come true," Escobar said in Spanish, smiling wide. "It never crossed my mind to win the MVP in the postseason. Thankfully things went well for me. I'm thankful they gave me the MVP."

Escobar batted .478 with two doubles and a triple. He also became the first player to lead off the first four games of a postseason series with a hit, all while driving in five runs, scoring six others and playing his usual sparkling defense. Escobar joined Frank White (1980), George Brett (1985) and teammate Lorenzo Cain (2014) as the only other LCS MVPs in franchise history.

:: World Series: Mets vs. Royals -- Tune-in info ::

Really, it was a continuation of what Escobar always does in the postseason.

The 28-year-old batted .292/.303/.415 in last year's playoffs, when Kansas City came within 90 feet of a title. This year, Escobar batted .230 over his last 29 regular-season games, then .386 in the first two rounds of the postseason. There's just something about this time of year.

"He's a high-energy player and he loves to play, and he's extremely talented," general manager Dayton Moore said. "He can beat you in a lot of ways. When he comes to play and he's focused, he can really carry a club."

Manager Ned Yost reinserted Escobar in the leadoff spot for the final five regular-season games, even though he carries a career .298 on-base percentage that doesn't necessarily fit at the top of a lineup. Yost didn't care. His Royals just seem to win with Escobar at the top. They're now a combined 47 games above .500 since the start of 2014.

"Everybody's saying, with all the numbers, the statistics, they don't know how he gets it done," Kansas City reliever Danny Duffy said. "But the bottom line is, he gets it done."

Video: ALCS Gm6: Escobar talks earning ALCS MVP honors

Right around the time Escobar resumed his duties as a tablesetter, hitting coach Dale Sveum approached him with an idea: Swing at the first pitch.

Escobar bought in. He swung at the first pitch he saw in each of the last five regular-season games, then three times in the five-game Division Series and all six times in this ALCS. It was an approach that instilled the aggressive mentality that allowed Escobar to raise his game.

"When I go to the batter's box aggressive, I focus more and I try to take better at-bats," Escobar said.

"There's just some people you have to turn loose, like a wild horse," Sveum added. "Some people just aren't good at taking pitches and letting things go by."

Video: Escobar on ALCS win, advancing to the World Series

Yost has known Escobar since his days as the Brewers' manager, before the Royals acquired him alongside Cain in the December 2010 trade that sent Zack Greinke, and others, to Milwaukee. At the podium late Friday night, Yost recalled how he used to invite Escobar to Spring Training when he was still in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, just because he loved watching him play.

"For him to get the MVP this year is very satisfying to me," Yost said. "I've always known he was an MVP-type of player in these type of situations."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast.

Kansas City Royals, Alcides Escobar

Red Sox cut above with another AL pennant

Boston ousts defending champs to reach 4th WS since 2004
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- That's four American League championships in 15 seasons for the Boston Red Sox if you're keeping track. Think about that for a moment. Baseball has never had more parity than right now, but the Sox constantly restock and roll on, making the playoffs this season for the 10th time since 2003.

No other AL franchise can match Boston's four pennants in this stretch. This isn't one generation of players, either. It's at least three, maybe four, and that's the thing that separates some franchises from others.

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HOUSTON -- That's four American League championships in 15 seasons for the Boston Red Sox if you're keeping track. Think about that for a moment. Baseball has never had more parity than right now, but the Sox constantly restock and roll on, making the playoffs this season for the 10th time since 2003.

No other AL franchise can match Boston's four pennants in this stretch. This isn't one generation of players, either. It's at least three, maybe four, and that's the thing that separates some franchises from others.

View Full Game Coverage

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

:: World Series schedule and results ::

From Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling to David Ortiz and Jon Lester to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, the names roll off the tongues of Boston baseball fans. To be so good for so long says plenty about Red Sox owner John Henry's construction of a great franchise.

Now, these new Red Sox will bring fresh faces to the game's biggest stage after eliminating the Astros with a 4-1 win in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series on Thursday night to get back to the World Series and within four wins of doing what the championship teams of 2004, '07 and '13 did.

Gear up for the World Series

In the first team meeting last spring, Boston rookie manager Alex Cora asked how many players had been part of a World Series winner. A handful had played some on the 2013 club, but this group largely represents a turning of the page. With that, a tone had been set.

Bradley's 3 big hits earn ALCS MVP honors

"Spring Training, you just have that feel," said Bradley, the ALCS MVP. "We had a lot of talent in the room. And it was just those extra pieces to allow us to get to where we wanted and needed to be."

This team has been expertly constructed and smartly managed. There are homegrown stars like Betts and Bradley as well as left fielder Andrew Benintendi and third baseman Rafael Devers. There are smart free-agent signings (David Price and J.D. Martinez) and solid trade acquisitions (Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Craig Kimbrel).

This pennant belongs to all of them and especially to Cora, who celebrated his 43rd birthday with champagne showers and bear hugs in a wild clubhouse celebration at Minute Maid Park. His ability to reach players, to get them to buy in, was mentioned again and again in the clinching celebration.

"You know, AC just fits this group really well," Price said. "And he did it before our first day in Spring Training, just getting guys together, just getting everybody on the same page and making sure everybody has that common goal."

This pennant also belongs to an old-school baseball executive, Dave Dombrowski, the architect of World Series teams in Florida and Detroit before arriving in New England in 2015.

Dombrowski put the finishing touches on a team that won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and ran away from a 100-win Yankees team, climbing atop the AL East for good on July 2 and finishing eight games in front.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price, clutch HRs, 'pen lead Sox to pennant

Before that 2004 World Series, the one that ended an 86-year championship drought, the Red Sox had been to the Fall Classic four times in the previous 85 seasons. Now, they've made it feel almost routine. They spend money fearlessly and had baseball's highest payroll in 2018. For this, they make no apology.

"You want to be a part of something great," Bradley said. "You want to be winners. You want to be known as winners."

In Game 5, it was Price pitching the game Boston envisioned him pitching when he signed one of the largest free-agent contracts in history in 2015.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price leads Sox to pennant with 6 scoreless

You probably know the story line. Price could not replicate his regular-season success during the postseason. Pitching on just three days' rest and one day after warming up to pitch in relief on Wednesday night, he threw six shutout innings that will stand as his signature New England moment until something grander comes along.

Martinez homered off Houston starter Justin Verlander in the top of the third inning, and Price made that run stand up until Devers broke it open with a three-run home run off Verlander in the sixth.

In the end, all the pieces fit. Cora managed his bullpen beautifully. Bradley hit huge home runs in Games 3 and 4. Benintendi ended Game 4 with one of the great clutch catches in history.

Next up: another World Series in New England, with Game 1 against the Brewers or Dodgers on Tuesday at Fenway Park.

"It's special in every aspect," Cora said. "Not only as a manager, but as an individual. To be able to lead this team, it's amazing. It's a great group -- very talented, very humble, very hungry."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Boston Red Sox

Cora's birthday party is one for the ages

Red Sox rookie skipper celebrates with trip to World Series
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- It's difficult to imagine Alex Cora having a happier birthday.

The Red Sox manager guided his team to a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, winning the franchise's 14th pennant and its first since winning the World Series in 2013.

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HOUSTON -- It's difficult to imagine Alex Cora having a happier birthday.

The Red Sox manager guided his team to a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, winning the franchise's 14th pennant and its first since winning the World Series in 2013.

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World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

"The last out yesterday was like around 12:10, so we won two on my birthday," Cora said. "I'll take it."

Indeed, the marathon Game 4 didn't conclude until after midnight CT, while Thursday night's Game 5 concluded before 11 p.m. Cora has a lot more to celebrate than turning 43; he's the first rookie manager to reach the Fall Classic since 2001, when Bob Brenly did so with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Get Red Sox World Series gear

Brenly's team won a classic seven-game Series against the Yankees. Cora is hoping for a similar outcome against the winner of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Brewers, which Los Angeles leads, 3-2.

"We've still got work to do," said Cora, whose players sang "Happy Birthday" to him in the clubhouse during the victory celebration.

Red Sox sing 'Happy Birthday' to Cora

Cora is the sixth manager to take the Red Sox to the World Series in his first season with the club. Of course, this isn't just his first season managing Boston; it's his first season managing anywhere.

Video: ALCS Gm 5: Alex Cora on heading to the World Series

Cora is just the third rookie manager to reach World Series in the expansion era (since 1961), after Brenly and Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees).

"Just his demeanor, you know, it doesn't change," said David Price, who rewarded Cora's faith in him with six shutout innings in Game 5 despite working on short rest. "I know it's easy to not change when your team wins 108 games in the regular season, but he hasn't changed one bit. Got two little twin girls that aren't letting him sleep; they aren't sleeping. Just for him to do what he's done for us this year has been sweet."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on Cora's demeanor and leadership

From Cora's bullpen management to his lineup decisions, just about every button he pushed this postseason has worked to perfection for the Red Sox. On Thursday, he removed Nathan Eovaldi after the eighth inning despite the fact that the right-hander appeared to be having his way with Houston's lineup.

"There was a chance that there was a Game 7, and we needed to be prepared for that," Cora said. "We knew the skinny guy [Chris Sale] was ready for Game 6, but in case there was a Game 7, it was going to be [Eovaldi]. No way I'm going to push him to lose him and then lose the game. That was going to be tough."

Giving Craig Kimbrel -- who has struggled throughout the postseason -- an opportunity to close out the game and test out the mechanical adjustment he had made the previous night was also likely in Cora's mind. What better way to bolster your closer's confidence than to let him stand on the mound when your team wins the pennant?

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on pitching strategy with Eovaldi

Cora's first season has been a bit of a fairy tale, but he reflected on his managerial interview with the D-backs two years ago, crediting Arizona general manager Mike Hazen for pushing him in the right direction to get where he is today.

"When they decided to go with Torey [Lovullo], he called me, he's like, 'It will be good for you to go out on the field; I think that's going to help you out,'" Cora said.

Cora joined Houston as AJ Hinch's bench coach, was part of a World Series winner, then took the Boston job.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on familiarity with Astros after win

On Thursday, Cora sent his former team home for the winter. He and his Red Sox will have a couple of days to decompress before opening the World Series at home on Tuesday in front of what promises to be an electric atmosphere at Fenway Park.

"AJ Hinch and that group gave me a chance to be with them, to grow up as a coach, to learn a lot from different aspects of the game," Cora said. "I'm very proud of that group. They had an amazing season."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch congratulates Cora on AL pennant

Hinch lauded his friend for the job he's done during his first season running the show.

"It's not easy to take over a team in that market, in that setting and see the things that happen to that team and still come out with all the wins that he did," Hinch said. "Managing nowadays is not an easy job. And I know I laugh about it, but everybody thinks they're a really good manager. But to be able to command that clubhouse and lead a group of men to where he's going, he should feel very proud. I think his convictions, his demeanor, his personality that rubbed off on that team is something that I noticed and something that he should be proud of."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley Jr. on the best qualities of Cora

To hear Red Sox players speak of their manager is to know the fondness they have for Cora as a man and a boss. He may be in charge, but he's also one of them.

"That's what makes him special; his ability to communicate with us, relate with us," ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. said. "We feel like he can be one of the guys, but we also understand his leadership, his role, who he is.

"He takes control. He makes sure that we continue to keep pressing forward. He spoke about every single day, turn the page, turn the page, moving on to the next step, not dwelling on the past. What can we do for the present and what's going to help out for the future?"

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox

JBJ's 9 RBIs vs. Astros earn him ALCS MVP

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. finally stopped tormenting the Astros when he went hitless in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. But the damage had already been done, and Houston won't be able to repeat as World Series champions due in large part to Bradley.

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

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HOUSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. finally stopped tormenting the Astros when he went hitless in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. But the damage had already been done, and Houston won't be able to repeat as World Series champions due in large part to Bradley.

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

Shortly after the Red Sox celebrated the AL pennant with a 4-1 victory, Bradley was given the Most Valuable Player Award for the series.

Get AL champs postseason gear

It was an unlikely yet sweet feat for a player who has always been known more for his glove in center field than his bat. And though Bradley had just three hits in the five games against the Astros, they added up to nine RBIs.

Bradley's bases-clearing double gave Boston a lead it never relinquished in Game 2. He then recorded a grand slam off Houston closer Roberto Osuna in Game 3. And in Game 4, the wildest contest of the series, it was Bradley's two-run homer in the sixth inning that gave the Red Sox the lead for good.

"Speechless," Bradley said. "It's amazing. I have amazing teammates, amazing staff. Everybody's such a blessing."

If Bradley had a hard time reflecting on the trophy he collected, his teammates had no problem saluting their center fielder.

"There's nobody on this team that I can think of in baseball that deserves it more than Jackie," said David Price, who threw six scoreless innings in the clinching victory. "One, the player that he is. And two, more importantly, the person that he is. He continues to work. He continues to grind."

Young fan overcome with joy by AL pennant win

Video: Bradley Jr. carries the freight for Red Sox in ALCS

Through his first 124 at-bats of the regular season, the notoriously streaky Bradley was hitting .161 with two homers and nine RBIs. His OPS was .502. But manager Alex Cora stuck by him. And from July 1 through Game 5 of the ALCS, Bradley slashed .269/.340/.479 with seven homers and 36 RBIs, all the while playing tremendous defense.

"Awesome," Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi said. "It couldn't happen to a better person. The most humble guy you meet. You never know if he's 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. He came up big this series with nine RBIs or whatever it was. He was even keeled all year, and it couldn't have happened to a finer person."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley discusses winning for Boston

Bradley and the Red Sox will be back at it on Tuesday night, when they host Game 1 of the World Series.

"This is what we set out to do when we come to Spring Training," Bradley said. "And we battled -- we've been battle tested, played against a lot of great ball teams. This is definitely a special moment."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Priceless! Lefty sends Red Sox to World Series

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- For years, David Price was forced to carry around his postseason misfortunes as a nuisance that wouldn't go away in an otherwise decorated career. The lefty didn't hide from it. He just vowed over and over that the narrative would change at some point.

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HOUSTON -- For years, David Price was forced to carry around his postseason misfortunes as a nuisance that wouldn't go away in an otherwise decorated career. The lefty didn't hide from it. He just vowed over and over that the narrative would change at some point.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price leads Sox to pennant with 6 scoreless

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That point was Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, when Price pitched his Red Sox to the American League pennant with a marvelous performance on three days' rest in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

Behind Price's first win in 12 career postseason starts -- and home runs by J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers -- Boston dethroned the defending World Series champion Astros with a 4-1 victory.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Red Sox celebrate series win over Astros

Red Sox cut above with another AL pennant

It was sweet for everyone with the Red Sox, but it had to taste the best for Price, who went to sleep late Wednesday with a visualization that turned to reality.

Video: Scott Braun talks with David Price after the win

"My last thought last night before I went to bed was probably a little bit different," Price said. "The night before I pitch, I'm just envisioning myself making pitches, and last night I envisioned myself doing this [clubhouse celebration] right here. Just going through my head, [I thought of] what I was going to say, and I'm happy that it happened."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on preparing for his Game 5 start

Never again will Price have to talk about having zero playoff wins as a starter. The reality of that hit Price immediately, and that thought was sweeter for the 33-year-old than the champagne that drenched him repeatedly in the victorious clubhouse.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora, Bradley Jr., Betts on Price's outing

"That's cool. That's awesome," Price said. "I don't have to prepare myself for that in Spring Training, February 20th or when September rolls around every year and I've still got five regular-season starts left. I don't have to answer that question anymore, so that feels good."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley Jr. named MVP of the ALCS

Jackie Bradley Jr. -- who delivered a go-ahead three-run double in Game 2 in Boston, punctuated an 8-2 win in Game 3 with an eighth-inning grand slam and launched a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 4 -- was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley Jr. discusses winning the ALCS, MVP

Now it will be the Red Sox, led by rookie manager Alex Cora, who represent the AL in the World Series, which will start on Tuesday night at Fenway Park against the Dodgers or Brewers. This is the first trip to the Fall Classic since 2013 for Boston, which has a chance to win its fourth championship ('13, '07, '04) in 15 seasons since ending that infamous 86-year drought.

Video: ALCS Gm 5: Alex Cora on heading to the World Series

"Huge," said Martinez. "That's one of the best feelings in the world. To be bringing a World Series opportunity back to [the fans of Boston] and an American League championship to Boston, I'm sure they're going nuts back home."

Video: MLB Tonight talks J.D. Martinez's adjustments

Pitching on three days' rest after a start for the first time in his career -- and filling in for ace Chris Sale, who is recovering from a stomach illness -- Price mowed through the Astros, using a dominant changeup to keep them off-balance. Over six innings, the lefty allowed three hits and no runs while walking none and notching nine strikeouts, his career best in the postseason. Price threw 93 pitches and generated 15 swings and misses, 12 coming on changeups. He outdueled Houston ace Justin Verlander, who was on regular rest, by a wide margin.

Video: MLB Tonight breaks down David Price's game

"There was a lot of noise," said Cora. "I was saying today that -- I don't want to pick battles with the media, but I heard somebody today on TV just blasting David, blasting him, calling him the worst pitcher in the postseason. Yeah, the numbers are there, I know, but he was saying this -- he didn't hesitate, saying it was a bad matchup, one of the greatest against the worst and all that. I don't listen too much to what's going on outside, but that one got me."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on Price's stellar performance in win

This time, Price had the last laugh, and he soaked up every bit of it. After the trophy presentation, Price was the first player out of the Red Sox's clubhouse. He walked to a barricade where all the families of Boston's players were. When they saw Price, they all roared. Price hugged his wife, Tiffany, and held his 17-month-old son, Xavier.

Video: ALCS Gm5: David Price has his son at the podium

"That's my rock, so that's cool," Price said of embracing his family.

Fittingly, the performance came one day shy of the 10th anniversary of Price's other signature moment in the playoffs, when he earned a clutch save for the Rays against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. Cora started that night at shortstop for Boston. On Thursday, the manager enjoyed his 43rd birthday by watching Price dominate.

Sox sing 'Happy Birthday' to Cora after clinching

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on winning pennant as rookie manager

This is Price's first trip to the World Series since that 2008 season, when he was a September callup and his team lost to the Phillies.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

To have it happen this way, just a day after Price threw 40 pitches in the bullpen in case he was needed in the late stages of a wild Game 4, was surreal.

Young fan overcome with joy at AL pennant win

"He's right at the top step every time someone hits a home run," Martinez said of Price. "We all know his history and stuff like that, so for him, we're so proud of him. To be able to do what he did today on short rest, he picked us up. He carried us."

This ALCS was built up as a clash of the titans between clubs that combined for 211 wins during the regular season, and both looked imposing in the AL Division Series.

After losing Game 1, and looking disjointed in doing so, the Red Sox regained the dominance they displayed throughout much of the season and took four straight from the Astros, including the last two at Minute Maid Park. Boston is 5-0 on the road in this postseason, marking the first time it has won five straight road games in a single playoff run.

"We ran out of wins. We had a tough-fought series," said Houston manager AJ Hinch. "They took it to us. When you get two evenly matched teams up against each other, there's going to be swings in momentum and big at-bats and a little bit of luck, a little bit of bad luck. And they outplayed us. They did a really good job of having an excellent game plan and going and executing it and they were extremely tough."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch congratulates Red Sox on series win

Price came out dealing. In the fourth, he threw his second- and third-hardest pitches of the season (95.8 and 95.5 mph) during a strikeout of Carlos Correa.

The final pitch of the night for Price was a changeup that he struck out Jose Altuve. Knowing he was done for the night, and that his first postseason win as a starter was finally in his grasp, Price pumped his fist and shouted with joy as he went back to the dugout.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on Cora's demeanor and leadership

"Six shutout inning against the world champs with nine punchouts and three hits," said Price, reflecting on the excitement that hit him after he threw his final pitch.

With Cora's bullpen pretty well spent after a busy few days, he went to righty Matt Barnes for the first two outs of the seventh. After Marwin Gonzalez finally put the Astros on the board with a homer and Barnes walked Tony Kemp, starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi came out of the 'pen just two days after throwing 92 pitches in his win in Game 3. Eovaldi also took care of the eighth, and closer Craig Kimbrel finished it with his third save of the series, though the first two were more adventurous than he wanted.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Eovaldi tosses 1 1/3 key innings

"We found a few things last night after the game," said Kimbrel. "Some stuff I've been struggling with for a while. I feel like I was able to hone it in tonight, get back online and pitch like I'm supposed to."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kimbrel earns the save to clinch pennant

Though the end result made it look like Boston won the series in a romp, it sure didn't start that way. When the Red Sox got to the ballpark for Game 2 at Fenway Park, there was an urgency to salvage a split before the ALCS shifted to Houston. Price started that game, and though he came one out shy of qualifying for the win, he made some big pitches and left with a lead. With the Sox winning Game 2, it marked the first time his team had won a postseason game he started. Price called it a baby step.

So what was the clinching victory in Game 5?

Video: JBJ, Benintendi help lead Sox over Astros in ALCS

"A real step," said Price.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price, clutch HRs, 'pen lead Sox to pennant

And for the Red Sox, the next step -- the biggest of them all -- is the World Series.

Video: Martinez on clinching World Series appearance

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
J.D. strikes first: Martinez helped the Red Sox break out first for the fourth straight game, though they waited until the third inning this time. That was when Martinez smoked a one-out solo shot to left on a curveball in the upper part of the strike zone by Verlander. Martinez's first homer of the ALCS had a Statcast-projected exit velocity of 105.4 mph and traveled a projected 396 feet, clanging off a sign above the seats. The Sox are 80-5 this season when they score first, including 6-0 in the postseason.

Video: Must C Crushed: Martinez gets Red Sox on the board

"Huge, obviously," said Martinez. "He's one of those guys, you've got to get him rattled. You've got to have traffic. You've got to have something to just get him out of that groove. When he gets in that grove, he's tough, man. There's a reason he's one of the best pitchers in the game."

Devers strikes second: Martinez's missile was the only run of the game until the sixth. That was when Verlander served up a leadoff double to Mitch Moreland, a single by Ian Kinsler and then a huge three-run homer to the opposite field in left by Devers that gave Boston a 4-0 lead. Devers got enough of Verlander's 98.2-mph heater to get it over the wall. It wasn't an easy pitch to hit, as it had a 2,805 rpm spin rate. MLB hitters combined to hit just four home runs in the regular season off 4-seamers with 98+ mph and 2,600+ rpm.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers homers off Verlander's 98.2-mph heat

"Devers hit his decent. It's unfortunate that it went out," said Verlander. "He put a decent swing on it. It's not until I get back and see the exit velo that I know it wasn't hit as good as I thought. He hit it well. But it's the Moreland one that was kind of debilitating, just out of the reach of the left fielder to lead off an inning, when we're already down a run. That's tough to deal with."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on Devers coming up clutch

Devers' home run confused fan who caught it

SOUND SMART
With his third career homer in postseason play before the age of 22, Devers is tied for fourth all-time on that list with Andruw Jones, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera, who all had four. Price became the first AL pitcher working on three or fewer days of rest to record at least six shutout innings in a postseason game since Mike Mussina for the Orioles in Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS against the Indians.

Video: Red Sox beat Yankees, Astros, advance to World Series

HE SAID IT
"It hasn't sunk in yet, honestly. It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the World Series, and now we are. Our job's not finished yet. We still have four more wins. We're going to play a good team regardless of who we play. We're going to enjoy this tonight and get after that in two days." -- Andrew Benintendi, on going to the World Series

Video: Benintendi talks Red Sox's clinch with Braun

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, David Price

Kent impressed with Astros, Altuve's skill set

Former second baseman delivers ceremonial 1st pitch before G5
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Describing himself as a proud and insanely jealous Astros fan, former second baseman Jeff Kent spoke admiringly about the 2018 Houston ballclub while wistfully looking back at his own 17-year Major League career.

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HOUSTON -- Describing himself as a proud and insanely jealous Astros fan, former second baseman Jeff Kent spoke admiringly about the 2018 Houston ballclub while wistfully looking back at his own 17-year Major League career.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

View Full Game Coverage

Kent loves what the Astros are doing these days. But he also feels pangs, as he did when they won the World Series last year, remembering how close he was to winning a title when he was a player.

"I was a Game 7 loser with the Giants [in 2002], and we were one game away from going to the World Series with the Astros," Kent said. "So yes, I'm proud and grateful that I was part of a program making transitions, but I'm jealous as all get out because I'm a competitor and I wanted it to be me [winning the World Series] and not someone else."

Kent was invited back to Minute Maid Park by the Astros to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the Astros were eliminated with a the 4-1 loss in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night. Accompanied by his youngest son, 15-year-old Kaeden, Kent reflected fondly on his two seasons with the Astros, who made it to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series before falling to the Cardinals in '04.

Kent hit a memorable home run that postseason, launching a walk-off three-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS that put Houston ahead in the series, 3-2.

"Some of the old folks still remember me around and talk about that," said Kent, who lives near Austin. "It's pretty special. It's not so special anymore, now that these [current] Astros have outdone us all when we were playing, winning the World Series. But yes, it's neat to talk about. It's one of maybe the top three highlights of my career."

Kent, compared to most big leaguers, had a somewhat odd, reclusive personality when he played, opting out of most of the socialization that takes place on a day-to-day basis in the clubhouse over the course of a long season. But he was also known as a fierce competitor who detested losing, and he had a laser-sharp focus that made him one of baseball's more admired teammates.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kent discusses tossing out the first pitch

Kent heaped praise on the current crop of Astros, especially when he was asked specifically about second baseman Jose Altuve, who contributed mightily this month despite playing with a painful right knee.

"Impressive," Kent said. "His stature, his personality, the way he carries himself, the way he hustles, the way he plays through pain, the way he can shorten his swing up, make his swing big when he has to ... he has all the tools.

"I'm jealous, because I wish I had either played with him, or jealous because he's a hell of a ballplayer and he could have been better than I was. And proud, because I wore the Astros uniform, and he's doing the same thing, and he won a championship."

Altuve plays through injury
The sore right knee that has plagued Altuve for the second half of the season is so debilitating that manager AJ Hinch admitted prior to Game 5 of the ALCS that Altuve would be on the disabled list if this were the regular season.

McCullers, Altuve injuries may require surgery

"If it was any other time of the year, he wouldn't be in the lineup or wouldn't be playing," Hinch said before Game 5. "He'd probably be on the DL or under different circumstances. But he's showing up every day, good spirits, ready to go, giving 100 percent of what he's got. And he should be commended and appreciated."

Altuve, last year's AL Most Valuable Player Award winner, injured his right knee sliding into second base in a game against the Rockies at Coors Field in late July and has played through pain since. The injury forced Altuve to go on the disabled list for the first time in his career, and he aggravated the injury sliding into second base during Game 4 on Wednesday.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch on Astros' poise despite injuries

Altuve started at second base the first two games of the series before Hinch moved him to designated hitter in Games 3 and 4 to rest his knee. Hinch had hoped to have him back at second base for Game 5, but the knee aggravation made that a non-starter.

"When we went out to see him at second base, we knew he wasn't going to come out of the game, but you've got to give him a little bit of a blow there to take a few seconds to let the pain subside and then the ovation was incredible for that," Hinch said. "So the fans appreciate him, his teammates revere him. The production that he's doing on one leg is pretty incredible. And he's trying not to talk about it. And, therefore, I am."

The Astros haven't given an official diagnosis of what's wrong with the knee, but it's possible he's headed for surgery in the offseason. Despite the injury, Altuve reached base safely in Houston's first seven games of the postseason, scoring at least one run in six of those games.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Altuve discusses ALCS loss to the Red Sox

Worth noting
Astros pitchers walked 18 batters in 35 innings in the first four games of the ALCS. That's an uncharacteristic performance from a team that finished fourth in the Major Leagues during the regular season for the fewest walks allowed.

Hinch hinted the high walk total had more to do with the Astros pitching around the zone and the Red Sox hitters doing a good job of being patient rather than Houston's staff suffering from a lack of command.

"Sure, we want to throw perfect strikes," Hinch said. And this lineup will make you be a little more careful than perhaps the 30th-ranked offense. But I just think it's this time of year where everything is so precise and you make a few mistakes along the way and vice versa. The first part of the series, we were drawing all the walks -- Game 1 and part of Game 2. So it's a tough league, a tough series."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros

Verlander falls victim to short LF porch in defeat

Devers' 3-run HR provides Red Sox decisive blow in Game 6
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander, though still relatively new to the Astros, has pitched at Minute Maid Park enough to know how the Crawford Boxes play in left field.

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HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander, though still relatively new to the Astros, has pitched at Minute Maid Park enough to know how the Crawford Boxes play in left field.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

View Full Game Coverage

Routine fly balls that aren't hit particularly well often turn into home runs, and as frustrating as that can be for pitchers, anyone who has experienced Minute Maid Park accepted that it's fair for both sides -- especially for the home team, which gets to aim for the short porch 81 games a year.

Unfortunately for Houston, the only team that took advantage of the Crawford Boxes on Thursday was the Red Sox, who clinched the American League pennant by handing the Astros a 4-1 defeat in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series thanks to a largely unhittable starting pitcher in David Price, but also to an ability to take advantage of the 315-foot left-field line that defines the shallowest home run territory in the Majors.

"It's funny we're playing the Red Sox," Verlander said with a wry smile. "The only two places where those are hits are here and Fenway."

Boston's decisive blow arrived in the sixth inning off the bat of the left-handed-hitting Rafael Devers. The Red Sox, up 1-0, had runners at first and third with no outs when Devers connected with Verlander's first offering -- a 98.2-mph fastball -- and the ball traveled a projected 359 feet, according to Statcast™, landing in the first row of the Crawford Boxes.

Boston's slim one-run lead, built on J.D. Martinez's homer in the third inning, turned into a commanding four-run advantage.

Video: Must C Crushed: Martinez gets Red Sox on the board

"It was a gut punch," Astros manager AJ Hinch said of Devers' home run. "Because a lot of [Verlander's] home runs [allowed] this year were those balls that creeped into the Crawford Boxes. That's a little bit of bad luck in the ballpark, and a really good at-bat by Devers. He got the barrel to it, and he's a strong kid. The ball was elevated, and the ball carries to the right part of park, and that's baseball, that's the game."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers clubs clutch 3-run HR off Verlander

Verlander checked the exit velocity after the inning and saw the homer left Devers' bat at 101.5 mph, slower than Verlander expected.

"It wasn't hit as good as I thought," Verlander said. "But he hit it well."

The true blow, from Verlander's view, was Mitch Moreland's leadoff double that set up the big inning. That ball also hung up and headed toward left field, but it fell just short of clearing the wall. Left fielder Tony Kemp, known for his acrobatic catches, couldn't leap high enough, as the ball bounced off the wall before entering his glove.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Moreland doubles after Kemp's near grab

Ian Kinsler, Verlander's former Tigers teammate, followed with a base hit to right field, which moved Moreland to third base and set up Devers' first home run of the postseason.

"I saw Tony with the jump, and I was having flashbacks of the catch he made just a couple days ago," Verlander said. "I was hoping for that, especially from the leadoff spot. Then getting past Kins is tough. He was able to punch one through the right side, and then it's first and third. A 330-foot popup to left, and that's all she wrote."

"Once it got halfway there, I knew it was gone," Kemp said. "Unfortunately, no one else knew except me. I knew the ball was gone."

Verlander was more matter-of-fact than melancholy when addressing reporters after the Astros' season-ending loss. The general feeling in the clubhouse was that Houston was simply outplayed by Boston and bested by a nearly unhittable Price.

Entering the game, Verlander was unquestionably the Astros' best option in their effort to push the series back to Boston for Game 6.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch talks Verlander, Devers' home run

The veteran right-hander, making his 23rd career postseason start, had a 24-inning scoreless streak in postseason elimination games entering Thursday that spanned three outings: Game 6 of the ALCS with the Astros in 2017, and two that came with the Tigers, both against the A's: Game 5 of the AL Division Series in 2013, and Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS.

Verlander also compiled a 2.52 ERA and struck out 290 over 34 regular-season starts, making him a top candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award.

Houston was confident heading into Game 5, but the Astros were also realistic about their chances to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series with a team that won 108 games in the regular season.

"They have a great lineup," Verlander said. "If you don't execute, they're going to find ways to hurt you. Four runs in a nine-inning ballgame, that's not a ton. We had some success against them -- just not quite enough. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good series. We had a chance there in the ninth inning almost every game."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander

McCullers, Altuve injuries may require surgery

Morton also evaluating status of his right shoulder issues
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. could both be headed for offseason surgery.

Altuve dealt with a sore right knee in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and it was bothering him so much during the American League Championship Series that manager AJ Hinch said Altuve would have landed on the disabled list had it been the regular season.

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HOUSTON -- Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. could both be headed for offseason surgery.

Altuve dealt with a sore right knee in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and it was bothering him so much during the American League Championship Series that manager AJ Hinch said Altuve would have landed on the disabled list had it been the regular season.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

"It's difficult, but I'm not a superhero," Altuve said after the Astros were eliminated with a 4-1 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5 on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park. "I'm not the only guy that has done this. There's a lot of guys that are probably playing in worse situations than I."

Altuve injured the knee sliding into second base in late July against the Rockies at Coors Field, forcing him to the DL for the first time in his career. He was limited to designated hitter duties in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the ALCS, and Altuve aggravated the knee in Game 4 while sliding into second base.

"If it was any other time of the year, he wouldn't be in the lineup or wouldn't be playing," Hinch said prior to Game 5.

Neither Altuve nor the team has divulged exactly what's wrong with the knee, which teammate Alex Bregman said after the Game 5 loss to Boston in the ALCS was as swollen "as big as a grapefruit."

"I've got to go talk to the trainers in a couple of days, and I bet we're going to sit down and try to figure out what we know," Altuve said.

McCullers, meanwhile, sustained a right forearm strain on Aug. 4 at Dodger Stadium and he missed six weeks, returning in the final week of the regular season to pitch out of the bullpen. He made five appearances in relief in the playoffs covering five innings.

McCullers was coy when asked about a report stating he was pitching through a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and was headed for Tommy John surgery, which would put him out for all of 2019.

"We're going to figure all that stuff out," he said. "I'm pretty banged up. Other guys are banged up, too. That's going to be something down the road the next couple of days, the next couple of weeks we'll figure out."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Altuve discusses ALCS loss to the Red Sox

When asked if he was headed for surgery, McCullers said: "We've got to speak with the training staff. I'm going to do my standard postseason MRI stuff, see all the doctors, see how I'm feeling. I've definitely been throwing through some stuff."

Houston starter Charlie Morton was placed on the DL in late August with right shoulder discomfort and had his workload cut back in September to protect his arm. When asked if he was going to have surgery, he wasn't sure.

"Probably try to see how it feels here in the short term and see what needs to be done," said Morton, who's set to become a free agent. "The joint's fine. That's a relief. I'm not really worried about that. But moving forward here in the next week, we'll try to figure something out and see if I need to see somebody, and go from there."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers Jr.

Astros' title defense ends with ALCS loss to Sox

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- A franchise-record 103 regular-season wins and a dominating performance against the Indians in the American League Division Series seemed to have the Astros poised to head back to the World Series full of bravado and confidence.

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HOUSTON -- A franchise-record 103 regular-season wins and a dominating performance against the Indians in the American League Division Series seemed to have the Astros poised to head back to the World Series full of bravado and confidence.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

View Full Game Coverage

But after the Astros charged into Fenway Park and stole Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, the Red Sox stopped the back-to-back tour cold in its tracks with the kind of dominating pitching and relentless offense that Houston hoped would be its ticket into the Fall Classic.

Behind six scoreless innings from an overpowering David Price and homers from J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers off ace righty Justin Verlander, the Red Sox eliminated the defending World Series champs with a 4-1 victory in Game 5 on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

"They played really well, they played better than us," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. "It was a tough-fought series. They're a very good team and it's just disappointment."

When Tony Kemp flied out to Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi for the final out, the Astros' championship reign was over after 351 days. Players lingered in the dugout while Boston celebrated on the field. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Verlander were among the last to leave, with Correa resting his chin on his arm as the Red Sox danced.

Later in a quiet clubhouse, players shuffled about between lockers and exchanged goodbyes and hugs. A group of players sat in a circle and talked in hushed tones as reporters whizzed past them looking for the next interview.

"It's hard, it's always hard," Verlander said. "We had a good season. It didn't end up where we wanted. We lost to a great team. I said it last year, the playoffs, it's kind of flip a coin sometimes. It's whoever's playing the best baseball at the time. We were dealing with a ton of injuries as you can tell. The guys battled. We gave them a good fight. It just wasn't enough at the end. They played great baseball."

Verlander falls victim to short LF porch in defeat

Video: ALCS Gm5: Verlander on his outing, losing ALCS to Sox

The Red Sox blitzed the Astros by winning four consecutive games in the series, including all three games at Minute Maid Park. Boston outpitched Houston in each of its wins and came up with clutch hits time and time again. The malaise at home was a familiar theme for an Astros team that played much better on the road this year than it did at Minute Maid Park.

Still, the Astros followed up an offseason of celebrating the team's first World Series championship by fending off the A's and winning their second consecutive AL West title, passing the 1998 Astros for most wins in club history. They overcame adversity that included key injuries to Correa and Altuve, the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner who battled through an injured right knee in the playoffs.

McCullers, Altuve injuries may require surgery

"We feel like we set the bar exactly where it should be around here, which the World Series is the only thing that was going to make this team feel like we accomplished much," Houston manager AJ Hinch said. "But it's a pretty hollow feeling when the season abruptly ends the way that it does and the way that it did."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch congratulates Red Sox on series win

It was Altuve who had a two-run homer wiped off the books early in Game 4 because of fan interference, a monumental call that perhaps changed the trajectory of the series. The Astros lost Game 4 by that two-run margin, 8-6, leaving the bases loaded at the end of the game following a diving catch by Benintendi in left field.

"I'm sad but not disappointed about anybody here because every single guy shows up all year, and I can tell you they're trying hard to do everything they could to help the team," Altuve said.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Astros talk about ALCS loss to Red Sox

That was as close as Houston would come to scoring again in the series until Marwin Gonzalez homered off Matt Barnes in the seventh inning of Game 5 to cut Boston's lead to 4-1. Price dominated from the first pitch, outdueling his former teammate, Verlander, who allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. Verlander had tossed 26 consecutive scoreless innings in postseason elimination games before Martinez took him deep in the third inning.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Gonzalez launches a solo HR to left field

Verlander appeared to have struck out Martinez on an 0-2 slider on the pitch prior to the home run but didn't get the call. In the sixth, Devers dropped a three-run homer into the first row of the Crawford Boxes to put the Red Sox ahead, 4-0, and the Astros on the ropes.

"They have a great lineup," Verlander said. "If you don't execute, they're going to find ways to hurt you. Four runs in a nine-inning ballgame, that's not a ton. We had some success against them -- just not quite enough. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good series. We had a chance there in the ninth inning almost every game."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers clubs clutch 3-run HR off Verlander

The Astros' window of contention in the AL remains wide open with many of their key personnel returning in 2019, but free agency lurks for starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, Gonzalez, catcher Brian McCann and designated hitter Evan Gattis, among others.

Houston's core -- led by Altuve, Correa, Bregman and George Springer -- returns intact, along with All-Star starting pitchers Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but the Astros will have to examine some of the deficiencies the team had on offense all season that were exploited by the Red Sox in the ALCS.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Springer extends postseason hitting streak

"It's always disappointing to lose," said Springer, whose eighth-inning single extended his postseason hitting streak to 14 games. "It's a tough pill to swallow. Sometimes you have to give credit to the other guys. They got the big hit in big situations and made big plays. That's the game. You put it behind you, let it soak in for a few days and you're onto next year."

The long offseason has begun in Houston.

SOUND SMART
Yuli Gurriel's fourth-inning double gave him 13 extra-base hits for his postseason career, passing Hall of Famer Tony Perez for the most among Cuban-born players.

HE SAID IT
"To be honest with y'all, this year's team was better than last year's team, I believe. The ball's got to bounce your way in the postseason, and it didn't. It's tough. We'll learn from it and everyone in here will have a little bit of an edge to play with next year, a little bit of a chip on our shoulder knowing that we believe we should have been back-to-back champions. I know every day when I wake up and the rest of these guys wake up in the offseason, there will be one thing on their mind, and that will be working towards winning it next year." -- Bregman

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander